By: Randolyn Zinn
If he was thinking she wasn’t old enough, he was wrong.
Regina and her father were parked outside All Saints with the engine idling. She didn’t understand why he wouldn’t let her be his secretary for the week. Her penmanship was Parker perfect, her math skills were above average and those green sales reports he’d given her to play with were stupidly easy to fill out: shock absorbers were tallied in parallel columns separate from the muffler stats. What was so hard about that?
“Come on now, Gigi,” he said, nudging her knee. “You’re not nervous, are ya? An old pro like you knows the ropes.”
She knew the ropes, all right. Third grade in Decatur. Champagne for fourth and half of fifth. And just three days ago, they’d moved again, this time to Indianapolis. All Saints would be Regina’s third new school in as many years.
“Kiddo, if I miss the reps in Kankakee, my ass’ll be in a sling.”
She slid out of the car without looking at him.
“Who’s my best girl?”
Regina knew her father wanted to give her a goodbye kiss, but she didn’t like his Monday morning smell. His Old Spice was too strong, as was his coffee breath, and the yellow egg yolk stuck to the corners of his mouth made her feel sick to her stomach. She preferred the whiskered, smoky kiss he gave her on Friday nights after a week on the road, his real smell.
Something clanged off to her left and Regina turned to see the flag’s metal clasp hit the iron mast. The playground was empty. Classes had already started for the day.
Her father revved the engine. He’d named his car Gina, as in Lollabridgida. Last year’s model he’d called Sophia, as in Loren. Her father was a traveling salesman whose company gave him a new car every year.
“Keep an eye on things while I’m gone, okay Gigi?”
As Regina watched Gina cruise onto Mission Boulevard, the jaunty outline of her father’s hat and the pitch of his nose profiled against the car window reminded her of the silhouettes the lady at Kmart had scissored of her family from black construction paper. Her father had posed in his hat. The baby’s profile showed what a little general he was, stubborn and willful. Her mother looked pissed off in hers, but then she was always pissed off about something. Regina’s profile was disappointing, how her chin jutted forward like she was near-sighted, but her ponytail held promise in the way it spiraled down the back of her head like an exclamation point.
The wind blew open her coat and Regina turned her back against the chill. It was late and she would have to go in alone. The stupid baby had come down with another cold and her mother didn’t want to bring him outside. Dammit to hell, she whispered into her collar. Later, Regina would say a Hail Mary later to balance it out. She willed herself up the sidewalk and into her new school.
After the usual rigamarole in the office, a tall, sturdy nun in a black habit led Regina to the fifth grade classroom. Sister Thomas Aquinas’s skin was pockmarked, but her eyes were kind and Regina wondered if she was sad.
“Class, this is our new student…” Sister said, settling her large hands on Regina’s shoulders. Sister bent down and whispered, “What was your name again, dear?”
The class tittered as Regina made her way to the last seat in the row by the windows without looking at anyone. It was important for a new girl not to seem scared or trip or drop a book. She’d learned that much, anyway.
When she sat down in the last desk next to the windows, the chubby boy with the crewcut in front of her turned around and stuck out his tongue. His eyes were like two dots of blue ice and Regina thought he looked like a snowman in his white shirt with his round head balanced on top of the bigger ball of his chest. She pulled out her pencil case, pretending to ignore him until he gave up.
“Now, where were we?” Sister asked the class, brushing her chalky fingers against her long, black skirt. “What prayer celebrates the holy day when the angel Gabriel visited Mary and filled her with the heavenly host?”
Regina’s desk was set so far from the front that she had to squint to pull Sister’s cursive into focus. When she made out that the word on the board started with an “A” and had a lot of ‘n’s in it, she raised her hand.
“Oh good, our new student wants to take a guess.”
Regina stood and little sparks of electricity crackled as she pulled her skirt away from the back of her legs. “The Hail Mary?”
“One hundred percent correct. And what happened during the event we call the Annunciation?”
One of Regina’s holy cards showed the angel Gabriel holding a lily for the Virgin Mary who was kneeling in a lovely vaulted room where the Holy Ghost (in dove form) hovered in a dazzling ray of light as he dropped a teardrop of grace on Mary’s head, which always reminded Regina of the breath mint commercial where a sparkling drop of Retsin drips into the lozenge with a ding.
She cleared her throat before answering. “It’s the day Mary finds out she’s going to be Jesus’s mother.”
Sister bowed her head. “When the Word was made flesh. Let us pray. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee….”
A small brown sparrow landed on the window ledge opposite Regina’s desk. She liked to think that birds understood each other, and the thought filled her with such a rush of happy confidence that she decided to raise her hand again.
“Is it possible,” Regina asked when Sister called on her, “that maybe someone made up the Annunciation story…because did it actually happen? In real life, I mean?”
Sister’s eyebrows lifted so much that the headband of her wimple moved back on her forehead. The room went quiet and everyone looked at Regina, who looked down and touched the red tie at her throat. The All Saints uniform was the worst yet, skimpy and ugly as all get out: a white Peter Pan blouse with a bolero vest and matching A-line skirt.
“These stories,” Sister said in a breathy voice, “are the Word of God, handed down to us from the hard-working, martyred apostles nineteen hundred and sixty three years after His death and resurrection.”
Regina nodded and sat down. She wasn’t trying to be a smartass. She loved these stories. They were like fairy tales. Birds spoke to virgins or one fish fed a multitude. They were so great; she hoped they had been invented because if they wound up being real, she wouldn’t be able to believe in them anymore. She couldn’t understand why schools taught kids the rules of science and then asked them to believe that water could be turned into wine as a fact?
Gerald swiveled around and whispered, “Stupid ass!” Two buttons had pulled open on the front of his shirt and Regina could see his pale chest.
“Stupid ass times two,” she murmured back, then said two Hail Marys to balance out the stupid ass and the dammit to hell from before.
During morning recess, kids ran over to swings, jumped rope, threw the medicine ball or clustered in tight little circles of menace. First days in a new school were dicey for any new kid, but especially if the new kid had said something idiotic. Regina stood near Sister to be safe and scraped loose pebbles into a pile with the toe of her shoe. She balled her hands up in her pockets because she’d forgotten her gloves. Nuns were lucky. They kept their hands warm in the sleeves of their habits, like turtles hiding in their shells. Regina wished she had a habit to hide in and she thought about what her mother couldn’t take anymore. The night before, Regina had heard her parents arguing through the bedroom wall. Why was she always complaining, she wondered? Her mother had it easy. She wasn’t the one forced to start a new school all the time. At least she had the baby to keep her company.
Regina wondered what nuns looked like without their veils and how long their legs might be under the long black skirts with the wooden rosaries that clicked at their sides when they walked. Did they undress in the dark? She pictured a convent of nuns in full habits like black birds tucked into their little Goldilocks beds, dreaming of the handsome guy they were all married to. Jesus had wives all over the world. How could they not be jealous of each other? Regina had realized in second grade that she’d never be a nun because she wanted Jesus all to herself, which worried her because she might not achieve true holiness unless she conquered that jealousy.
She hoped that having brainstorms and following them through counted as a kind of holiness because that could be her ticket to heaven. Her best brainstorm was the clover chain she’d made in Decatur before they moved away. Her mother had helped her knot the sappy stems together until the chain was long enough to circle their entire house. Regina figured an idea like the clover chain was holy because it couldn’t have come from anywhere but the mind of God.
Eating lunch alone in the cafeteria, Regina chewed her peanut butter sandwich to the rhythm of “This Land is Your Land” because she knew Delia Roberts and Shelly Hanson were giggling and pointing at her from the other end of the table. She bent down to fix the dimes in her penny loafers so that the plume side of the flames lined up north to south, and remembered that her mother had taught her how to handle mean girls like Delia and Shelly. Show ‘em you don’t give a rat’s ass what they think and they’ll leave you alone. Clearly, Delia and Shelly set the standard for what was cool in the sixth grade. They wore the same kind of belt, curled their ponytails in unison, and found fault with everyone else. Regina imagined what they would do if blue cartridge ink were to magically squirt all over onto their perfect ponytails, an image that made her happy even if it wasn’t exactly a holy one.
She finished her sandwich and folded its waxed paper into quarters. With twelve minutes to spare, she hid out in a stall in the girls’ bathroom, studying the hounds tooth check pattern on her skirt until the bell rang.
“Hi, honey, how was your first day?”
Her mother was sitting on the living room floor surrounded by boxes, with her curly hair tied up in a bandana. Brown paper runners were taped to the new wall-to-wall carpeting to keep it clean and Regina noticed that the walls were papered with the same pattern as their house in Champagne: mean, sharp-beaked eagles grasped the Declaration of Independence in tight talons, looking like they could tear your eyes out.
The baby was parked in his walker, still dressed in his blue Dr. Denton sleepers. When he saw his big sister, he laughed and bobbed up and down, beating his little hands on the sticky plastic tray scattered with Cheerios.
“Earth to Regina, hello,” her mother said again. “How was school? Was the bus okay?” From the way her mother blew a wisp of hair out of her eyes, Regina could see that she was in one of her bad moods.
“It was fine,” Regina answered, wiping the baby’s nose with the crusty bib tied around his neck. “Hi, Goo-Goo-Head.” She pulled the baby out of his chair and bounced him on her hip. She loved the feel of his meaty thighs and how his plump cheeks were so nice to kiss.
“Wanna play Gin Rummy, Mom?”
“Look around, Regina! Do you see your father anywhere helping me? The baby’s sick and…”
“Sorry!” Regina said, sliding the baby back into his jumper seat. The baby started tocry. Her mother ripped open a new box and sighed, “Christ! I thought I threw out all this crap.”
There wasn’t anything to eat in the kitchen besides baby food, so Regina wandered outside to search the sky for a sign. She searched the sky for a sign almost every day because she wouldn’t want to miss the Blessed Virgin Mary riding down to earth on rays of heavenly grace. The BVM would share a secret so special with Regina that not even the Pope could know, something earth-shaking like when the world would end. That day, however, the wide Indiana ceiling was clear and blue without even a trace of clouds.
“Dammit to hell,” Regina growled, kicking a clod of dirt. What was so great about Indianapolis, anyway? Her father was wrong. There weren’t any Indians and it wasn’t like the olden days here at all. Their new house looked exactly like their old one in Champagne. The backyard was a muddy lot bulldozed flat of all its trees and covered with straw to protect the new grass seed that hadn’t sprouted yet.
Regina walked to the edge of their yard into the one next door and then across the next street, but wherever she stood within the maze of houses in Indian Point Estates she couldn’t see where she was in relation to anywhere else because everything looked exactly the same.
She had been told this place would be different. A couple months before, her father had lifted her out of bed late one Friday night to tell her they would be moving again. “Indianapolis, Indiana, Gigi.” Regina had liked that there were two Indians in the name of the next town, and as she gazed into her father’s blue eyes, she imagined the two of them sitting side by side on a Conestoga wagon wearing hats—a calico bonnet for her and a straw boater for him—two brave pioneers heading into the frontier for adventures.
Regina’s shoes were caked with mud as she picked up handfuls of straw to cover the bare patches so that the whole yard would be evenly covered. Near the four holes her father hadn’t finished digging yet for her swing set, she spied a polished, nicked rock jutting out from a clod of dirt. Too bad it wasn’t a piece of obsidian. She’d read in the World Book that the Aztecs used to shave their beards with flakes of the shiny black rock. This muddy gray stone appeared to have been deliberately shaped into an isosceles triangle with a stem thingy in the middle of its flat end. Its perimeter edge was nicked at regular intervals like a fluted piecrust, which was weird. Those nicks didn’t look natural, and her heart started to pound with the thought that maybe someone had made them on purpose. Butchie Ruggles, their next-door neighbor in Decatur had found an arrowhead in his yard. She thought maybe an Indian could have chased a buffalo across this yard and shot an arrow that landed under the swing set.
She ran inside.
“Mom, Mom, where’s the World Book?”
“Jesus, Regina! Don’t slam the door. I don’t know. All the boxes are marked, you’ll have to look. And take off your shoes! You’ll track mud all over the goddamned house. Could I have just one day of peace, just one…?”
Regina kicked off her shoes and searched the boxes until she found the World Books. In Volume IJK she read that the Illinois tribe had lived in Indiana. In Volume A for arrowhead, a photo showed one very much like the one she was holding: a side-notched 1682 variety, quite typical for their region, made of chert or hornstone.
She looked again at Volume IJK, the painting of a brave on horseback rushing into battle. His loincloth was like the one Jesus had worn on the cross. His hair was long like Jesus’s too, except that Jesus didn’t ride a horse galloping into the wind. The brave’s eyes followed Regina, so she left the book open in her room, and they watched each other for the rest of the afternoon. The arrowhead she stowed in her pocket to pet its smoothness and press the tip into the pad of her pointer finger.
Later, when Regina sat down for dinner, her mother gasped. “Oh my god. Don’t touch the baby. Don’t touch anything. Get your coat on.”
Her mother ran to the telephone and yelled at the operator, “Where’s the goddamn hospital around here?” Regina hadn’t noticed that her arms were covered with little red bumps. When she felt her face, it felt hot instantly and there were bumps on it too. Then she started to itch all over.
Her mother bundled the baby into his snowsuit and rushed them all out to the car. “What else?” her mother cried as she backed their old black Chevy out of the driveway too fast that the bumper scraped the curb. “I don’t even know where the hell I’m going.”
The baby lay on the back seat next to Regina, trying to pull his feet to his mouth, but his snowsuit was so thick and bulky, he finally gave up and lay still.
He looks like a dead penguin, Regina thought, if penguins were powder blue.
“What if it’s the measles?” her mother asked, staring out the windshield. “Or chicken pox, the baby will get it. That’s all I need. We don’t even have a pediatrician.”
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“And as usual, your father’s not here.”
“We could call him.”
“If we knew where he was.”
“He leaves his itinerary by the phone.”
Her father got home late on most Fridays, which meant he’d sleep through lunch on Saturday, and before they knew it Monday would roll around and he’d drive away again.
“Does this street sign say Montgomery Road?”
“I think so, wait.” Regina squinted. “Montgomery. Yes. That’s it.”
Her mother made the turn so fast Regina had to grab the baby’s tummy so he wouldn’t roll off the seat.
“Stop saying that, Regina, it’s not your fault! I’m just losing my goddamn mind, that’s all.”
Regina thrilled to repeat her mother’s words silently. I’m losing my goddamn mind…
“Here, Mom, here, it says ‘Hospital.’”
Their tires squealed as her mother turned the car into the Emergency Room parking lot, then she turned off the ignition, bent over the steering wheel and sobbed. Regina waited for her to calm down, patting the baby’s tummy to keep him quiet as the night darkened around them. Finally, her mother blew her nose and Regina whispered, “At least the car didn’t stall.”
Her mother looked up into the rear view mirror. “That’s right, honey. Things could be worse.”
The doctor examined Regina and wrote a prescription for a skin lotion. “Hives aren’t contagious,” he said, “but keep the baby away from the straw.”
The nurse gave Regina a lollipop and then pulled her mother aside.
“Oh gosh,” Regina heard her mother say, “I’m just a little tired is all. My husband and I are having some…well, we just moved…but we’re fine. I’m fine.”
On the way home, they stopped at the Dairy Queen.
“I guess I got a little carried away before,” her mother said, holding a vanilla cone for the baby. “Did I scare you, honey?”
“It’s okay,” Regina said, tonguing a groove in her chocolate swirl. “Good luck is always balanced by bad.”
“Oh. See, finding the arrowhead was good luck and then the hives balanced it out. It’s God’s way of keeping things even.”
“Who the hell told you that, the nun?”
“You mean Sister Thomas Aquinas? No. This is my theory.”
Her mother spit onto a paper napkin and wiped the baby’s mouth with it. “Listen, Regina, you’re allergic to straw, that’s all your hives mean. It’s not God balancing out a little girl’s luck. I swear I’m going to yank you out of there.”
“But you went to Catholic school.”
“Doesn’t mean my daughter has to learn the same hooey. Oh Christ, look what he did.”
The baby had both hands in his ice cream and was spreading it all over his snowsuit.
“What day is it?” her mother asked with a groan. “I forgot.”
“Tuesday. Three more days till Dad gets back, if you don’t count today.” Regina watched as her mother’s face divided into sections and she sensed that something had unraveled between her parents. She wondered what she had done to make them so unhappy.
“Am I a bad mommy?” her mother asked the baby as she licked the drips on his cone. “Is Daddy right?”
April Fool’s Day arrived with brilliant sun, but rainy wind blew in overnight and the weather turned cold across the Indiana territory. Regina’s hives had faded to almost invisible spots and the baby’s cold had cleared up, but most of the moving boxes still sat unopened in the living room. Most nights her mother was sleeping in her clothes, and they often ate cereal for dinner. Her father had never been away so long. When he finally called, he told Regina his work was keeping him away and promised she would see him very soon. She told him about the arrowhead, hoping it would make him want to come back. “Keep it safe,” was all he said.
The days passed with a kind of numb predictability. Every night Regina lay in her bed with the arrowhead stowed under her pillow and her fingers stuck in her ears so she wouldn’t hear her mother crying. Every morning at school Gerald stuck out his tongue when she took her seat. Or he’d point to her hives and say, “What’s on your face, Shygirl? Diaper rash?” On the playground he’d taunt her so everyone could hear. “Regina! Vagina!”
Regina wanted to believe that words could never harm her, but she had begun to doubt the basic premise of the sticks and stones philosophy. One time she shouted back a ditty from one of the baby’s books:
Tit for tat,
Butter for fat,
If you kill my dog,
I’ll kill your cat.
But who am I kidding, Regina reasoned silently, I’d never kill a cat.
At recess one day while she was watching some kids play Chinese jump rope, Delia sidled over and said, “Um, your knee sock fell down.”
“Yeah, your barrette is unclipped,” Shelly added. “Ew, and there’s a stain on your sweater. What is it?”
Regina pulled up her knee sock and clipped her barrette, but didn’t tell them that the baby had spit up on her sweater.
“Hey guys,” Gerald yelled from the teeter-totter. “Goody Schuyler is a witch. Arrest her!”
They’d been studying the Salem witch trials in History.
A phalanx of kids clambered towards Regina as Gerald grabbed her arms and pinned them to her side.
“Let go,” she cried, kicking him in the shins, but Gerald held fast and pulled her over to the swing set.
“You’re a witch,” he growled, “and you’re gonna burn.”
“Yeah,” Delia agreed, glancing over to Shelley for approval.
“You are so stupid,” Regina said. And then somebody stepped on the back of her heel and it hurt. “Stop it!” she cried, but Gerald covered her mouth with his hand, and she sunk her teeth in hard.
“Dammit! She bit me!” Gerald said, turning to Jeremy Coldthrum, otherwise known as Pickle, on account of the bumpy slope of his nose. “Hold her.”
Jeremy pinned Regina’s arms to the iron A-shaped end of the swing set while Gerald knotted his necktie around her wrists and fixed them to the axis bar.
Regina tried but couldn’t get away. “You’ll get in trouble if Sister sees you.” Sister was on the other side of the playground.
Gerald grunted and tied his ratty wool scarf across her mouth and nose and it pulled her hair when he knotted the ends. When she jerked away, her head bumped back against the iron A-frame and hot tears stung the corners of her eyes. She moved her mouth to ease Gerald’s scarf away from her nose because it smelled like wet dog and greasy hair. Gritty grains of sand had found their way between her teeth.
The kids made a semi-circle to hide Regina from Sister’s view. Those not actively involved stood nearby, watching what would happen next, as if they’d made an instant, unspoken agreement that sanctioned making Regina their victim.
Meanwhile, she pulled against the tie at her wrists to try and loosen it, but pulling only made the knot tighter.
“Squeal, Regina,” Gerald yelled as he pretended to light a match at her feet. “Don’t you get it? The flames are hot! Scream! You’re in agony. Come on!”
“You idiot,” Regina cried. She wanted to tell him that witches hadn’t been burned in Salem; they’d been hanged, but she was afraid of giving Gerald ideas.
When the kids took up a chant, “Goody Schuyler is a witch. Goody Schuyler is a witch,” she managed to wriggle her right wrist from its binding so that she could slip her hand into her coat pocket to touch her arrowhead. If only her World Book brave would ride up on his spotted Appaloosa and pull her up next to him. They’d gallop to the top of the hill and she’d wave goodbye to Sister and All Saints, Mom and the baby. Gerald and Delia and Shelly would be amazed and would beg her to stay, feeling sorry and afraid that they hadn’t been nicer to her.
Someone yanked her elbow out of her pocket and Regina’s hand flew up just as Sister Thomas Aquinas came running over, waving her arms and her veil flapping like the cape of a super hero.
“What’s going on here?” Sister demanded, and Regina let go of the sobs she’d been holding back. Sister gently undid the scarf from around Regina’s nose and mouth and gave her a fresh tissue from her pocket packet. “You all right? Need the nurse?”
“No, I’m fine,” Regina answered, burning hot with embarrassment and loathe to look at anyone.
“Go inside and we’ll be right there,” Sister said, then blew her whistle three times, the special signal that meant trouble. The class immediately lined up along the long white stripe painted on the asphalt in front of the swing set as Regina walked to the green double doors. She looked back and saw Sister holding up the offending scarves and walking back and forth along the line, talking and shaking her head. Regina shivered and slipped inside the school to get warm.
The lights were off in the classroom. Desks had been pushed out of line and papers and pencils lay forgotten on the floor. Regina threw away the tissue Sister had given her and ran her index finger along one of the grooves of the blackboard’s chalk holder, pushing a line of dust to the end where it fell off to collect into a little white pile on the floor. She wiped her finger on her skirt and decided to pull down the map of the United States. She’d never been so bold as to do something like this and she double-checked through the window that Sister was still outside. In fact, the whole class was kneeling on the pebbly asphalt with their heads bowed.
She pushed the black rubber tip of Sister’s wooden pointer on the map at the dot of Plainville, Illinois where she’d been born, then moved it over to Decatur, Champagne and Indianapolis, the state capital, marked with a red star. She was surprised that the path from Plainville to Indianapolis turned out to be pretty much a straight line. Dad had always said they were “moving up in the world,” but it wasn’t true. They were actually moving across and a little down. If they kept going like this they’d wind up on the coast of Delaware, and from there, into the ocean Regina had never seen. She pulled down the world map and followed the path across the Atlantic to Spain and Italy, Greece and Turkey, the huge expanse of China, the blue Pacific into California, and back to Plainville. She had traveled the globe like the clover chain had circled her house.
The double doors banged shut and the sounds of her class echoed in the hallway. Regina quickly returned the pointer to the chalk holder, rolled up the maps and ran back to the cubby to hang up her coat. As the class filed in, she heard Shelly say, “Shut up, Gerald.” Regina worried about what Gerald would do to her now.
Rifling through her coat to look busy, her index finger found a hole in the lining of her pocket. The arrowhead was gone. She felt for it in the other pocket, but it wasn’t there either. She walked to the door where Sister stopped her.
“Is there a fire, Regina?”
“I lost something. From…my mother.”
“It will still be out there at three o’clock. Go back to your seat.”
But it wasn’t there at three o’clock, even after she retraced her steps from the classroom to the swings so many times that she missed the bus home. As she was looking at a hole in the blacktop, Gerald ran over.
“Lose your tooth, Shygirl?”
“That’s not nice. I’ll tell Sister and you’ll get your mouth washed out with soap.”
Regina squatted down next to a hopscotch square to investigate a grey stone. She didn’t want to tell Gerald about the arrowhead, but when he started hopping on one foot and patting his mouth with his hand, she felt her insides rise up like the lava project she’d done last year in science class. When vinegar hit baking soda, the plaster of Paris volcano had erupted with a hissing white fury.
“You looking for this?” Gerald asked, dangling the arrowhead in front of Regina’s face.
“Give me that,” she cried, grasping at the arrowhead. Gerald laughed and ran away, but Regina’s legs were longer and she easily closed in on him.
“Give it back!” she shouted. “It’s mine!” She stuck her foot out to trip him and he tumbled to the asphalt, his hands spread out in front of him.
“Oww, owww, owww!” he cried, turning over on his back and kicking his arms and legs like a beetle. Regina sat down hard on his hip and grabbed his wrists. She had never been this close to Gerald before. A sour smell rose from his clothes, like maybe they hadn’t been washed in a while. His fingernails were bitten down to the quick and his body was fat and soft like a baby, like her brother. Gerald was sort of cute, actually.
“Finders keepers,” he grunted, his face turning red as he squirmed against Regina’s hold, but she clenched her muscles hard until the inside of her arms felt like hot metal wires bending into place. Whenever she arm-wrestled her dad, he let her hold him back at the start to give her an advantage, and she considered doing the same for Gerald because he wasn’t as strong as she’d thought, but his grip faltered and the moment tumbled forward. She unpeeled the fingers of his right hand and the arrowhead dropped to the ground. She snatched it and stood up.
“If you ever bother me again,” she said, narrowing her eyes and displaying the tip of the arrowhead near the end of her nose, “I’ll scalp you with it! I know how it’s done.”
“You do not!” Gerald scrambled to stand and held his hands on his hips. The buttons on his shirt had come undone again and Regina could see his belly button. It was an outie like hers, a little pig’s tail, a curly knot.
“I didn’t hurt you so don’t even think about telling on me,” he said. Then he wiped the back of his hand across his nose and grabbed the arrowhead again and ran away. Regina ran after him, but she was tired and had to stop at the double doors to catch her breath. Her muscles burned as she bent over, hands on knees, gasping. She turned to wipe her forehead on her arm and noticed Sister Thomas Aquinas looking out from the classroom windows. She had seen everything.
Regina pulled up her knee socks and smiled wanly at Sister, who nodded just as a cloud passed over the window, erasing her image. Regina didn’t stick around to see what Sister would do next. She dashed over to Mission Boulevard in pursuit of Gerald, but he was nowhere in sight.
She had used the dimes in her penny loafers to buy an ice cream sandwich at lunch, so she couldn’t call her mother. She’d have to follow the bus route and walk home, turning right at the corner where the blue house was being painted and so on.
It was fun to walk home, swinging her book bag at her side. When the big hill came into sight, she decided to climb it. At its top, she could see all of Mission Boulevard in both directions. To the right lay All Saints, the Dairy Queen, and the hospital, and to the left, the twisting roads of Indian Point Estates, including her own house at the end of the cul-de-sac. Her mother’s black car might be parked in the driveway with the side door still open, just back from the supermarket. If only her father’s blue Oldsmobile would roll up the driveway too. Maybe, she thought, her father loved his car Gina more than he loved his wife.
The sun broke through the cloud cover and Regina tilted her head back to feel the warmth on her face. A ribbon of chattering birds swirled up, abruptly reversing direction to make a shape against the sky like a bow on a birthday present. Maybe it was a sign, she thought, that something good was about to happen. She made a wish that her mother and father would be happy again and offered up something she loved in return.
She got home okay and the next morning waited for Gerald to turn around and stick out his tongue, but he didn’t. Instead, he stumbled to the front of the room, holding his stomach. Sister frowned and sent him back to his seat.
Regina poked his shoulder with the eraser end of her pencil.
“Stop it,” he hissed, jerking away.
“Give it back,” she whispered.
Gerald swiveled around and Regina saw that his face was paler than usual; maybe he really was sick. He pouted for a second then reached into his pants’ pocket. When he opened his fist, Regina saw that he’d drawn an outline in blue ink around the arrowhead on his palm.
“What will you give me for it?” he asked.
“But it’s mine. Why would I buy it?”
He slammed the arrowhead on her desk. “Here, take the stupid thing.”
It hurt to make the sacrifice, but she had promised the ribbon of birds.
“Why don’t you keep it?” she asked.
Gerald looked at her for a second like he didn’t understand. Then, in one motion, he grabbed back the arrowhead and shoved it in his pocket.
When he turned around to face the blackboard, Regina felt the heavenly feeling again.